“I’m the sister of a hell-raiser, the daughter of an old tomcat, I was playin’ the piano in a honky-tonk, long before you bragged about that.”
The above lyrics are from the song “Round Too Long” off of Linda Gail Lewis and Robbie Fulks’ first collaborative album, Wild! Wild! Wild! released in August on Bloodshot Records. It’s as if that first line can almost be a quick biography of country/rock n’ roll musician, Linda Gail Lewis. Born in Louisiana, there’s almost no way Linda could escape a musical life. Her older brother, Jerry Lee Lewis, was attached to the piano so there was constant music in their house. “I could always play a little bit. My brother showed me how to play the “Tennessee Waltz” when I was two years old… but I never developed my piano playing because it just wasn’t needed. I was working with my brother on the road and they didn’t need another piano player in that act. I knew the basic chords because I’d been writing songs since I was a teenager. Back in those days, I was a country singer.”
Linda grew up in a very musical household. Despite being poor, the Lewis parents encouraged their kids to pursue musical dreams. When Jerry Lee was very young, they visited an aunt who had a piano. Jerry Lee sat down and started playing so the Lewis parents saved up the $50 to buy the piano from their Aunt.
Jerry Lee is twelve years senior to Linda but seeing his music career gave her the bug. “My brother is my greatest inspiration, he’s my favorite entertainer and recording artist. He’s one of the inventors of rock n’ roll. I’ve heard rock n’ roll since I was a toddler.” She recalls that she hated school and that touring as a musician was “all in the world that [she] ever wanted.” Linda said, “ When I was 14, I ended up getting married to this guy, I was in love with him or thought I was. After that, I was able to go on the road because I told my brother, I don’t really want to go back to school, I’m getting a divorce, what am I going to have in common with anyone else? So he took me on the road and I learned so much from him. I was a teenager on the road but I absolutely loved it.”
While Linda was on tour with the forerunners of rock n’ roll, she was limited to country and gospel music. She eventually remarried and had two children. At this point, Linda decided to take time off of music and focus on raising her children. “I missed being on the road. I’m absolutely addicted to it. I love what I do. That whole 10 years it was painful for me to even think about it but I ended up finally going back.”
When Linda entered the music scene again, she had a new focus: rock n’ roll. “I didn’t start my career in rock n’ roll until I started my solo career. The only reason I really thought I could have a career playing rock n’ roll then was because I saw Wanda Jackson in person… I was just absolutely flabbergasted. She shocked the hell out of me.” Jerry Lee had always told her that it was hard for a woman to do rock n’ roll. And at the time, there really weren’t any female rock musicians. Linda recalls listening to Dolly Parton’s cover of “Great Balls of Fire” and asking her brother why it sounded so awful. Jerry Lee said, “‘she’s singing it like a girl, she’s singing it like it’s a cute song and it’s balls to the wall rock n’ roll and if you can’t sing it like a man, and rock it like a man, a woman can’t do it.” Linda said, “ That kinda discouraged me, that was a long time ago when he told me that. And then when I saw Wanda, I said hang on, a woman can rock like a man.”
After many albums, Wild! Wild! Wild! Is Linda’s favorite to date. She said that she and Robbie Fulks originally met in Sweden when they were both on tour and struck up a friendship. While they’ve collaborated before, this is their first album together. Robbie wrote the music and Linda said, “the songs he gave me are the best songs I’ve had in my career.” In fact, she can’t speak highly enough of Robbie. Aside from her brother, Robbie is her favorite musician. On the album, Linda’s favorite song that Robbie sings is “I Just Lived A Country Song.” Her favorite song to perform is the title track “Wild! Wild! Wild!” “[It] really rocks, that’s definitely my favorite to perform. I was surprised, Robbie can really rock on stage, I mean I know I can but I didn’t know about him.”
Music is definitely a family affair for Linda. Her daughter, Annie, tours with her often and when she’s not with her mom, she has her own band.
Linda hopes that she’ll continue to work on music with Robbie in the future. She said, “my albums keep getting better. I think it’s unusual for someone to do that as they get older. People ask me when I’m going to retire and I say, when I die I guess.”
Linda Gail Lewis is a force to be reckoned with. She is a legendary musician and has been there for the beginning of rock n’ roll. Her new album with Robbie Fulks is a must listen for alternative country fans! And stay tuned, Linda Gail Lewis shows no signs of slowing down.